Consumer confidence falls to 6-month low in May

Still, plans to buy big-ticket items ticked up.

a credit card near a screen

“Deterioration.” “Gloomy.”

Those were a couple of the words used to describe consumer confidence in May. The Conference Board reported that the index fell to a six-month low amid debt ceiling anxiety and increasing concerns about employment.

“Consumer confidence declined in May as consumers’ view of current conditions became somewhat less upbeat while their expectations remained gloomy,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economics at the Conference Board, in a statement. “...While consumer confidence has fallen across all age and income categories over the past three months, May’s decline reflects a particularly notable worsening in the outlook among consumers over 55 years of age.”

The dip among those over 55 came as Congress negotiated a deal over increasing the debt ceiling that included talk of cuts to programs such as social security and Medicare. While officials reached an agreement over Memorial Day weekend, the Conference Board’s survey was fielded prior to that date.

The job picture appears to be more anecdotally cloudy, as the number of consumers reporting jobs as “plentiful” fell to four percentage points to 43.5%. The job market has been consistently robust for nearly three years, as unemployment remains near historic lows. In April, the economy added 253,000 jobs, which remained a positive sign despite being below the gains of prior months. The confidence reading comes ahead of fresh data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.

Despite the declines, there were signs that consumers are not completely pulling back on big-ticket items. Plans to buy big-ticket items such as cars and appliances ticked up on a monthly basis. It’s worth watching whether this extends to providing resilience in other discretionary categories, which have seen a pullback in early 2023.

Nevertheless, the index offered another sign that the consumer mood is getting more pessimistic. It was the fourth time in five months that confidence fell. On Friday, the University of Michigan offered another with a consumer sentiment report that showed a 7% dip.

Brands and retailers must work to reach consumers that are increasingly in less of a buying mood than the month before.

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